Books of My Life

Someone recently asked me, “What novels have most influenced your writing?” Easy question, I thought, so I said, “Give me a moment, and I’ll get back to you.”
Then the fun began. No matter how hard I thought and how many books came to mind, I could not identify one, two, three, or three-hundred that influenced my writing. Yes, three quickly came to mind—three that I have read numerous times over my lifetime and will continue to read into the afterlife. But did they influence my writing? I think not. They just reinforce what I already knew—every great book has so many stories inside that we can never find all of them.

So, what are these magic books of mine? I don’t want to hear any laughter, but number one on my list is ALICE IN WONDERLAND. (Hey, who was that giggler?) ALICE teaches me that the writer him/herself can only blunt the imagination. Look at Alice, look at all the predicaments she gets into, all the incredible characters she encounters. I mean, a White Rabbit with a watch, a March Hare, a Dodo, a Lory (what’s a Lory?), Bill the Lizard, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, and my very favorite, the Cheshire Cat—plus many others? Could you have dreamed up a big-mouthed cat with a grin filled with HUGE white teeth, who disappears, starting with his tail and ending with that grin? I confess. I don’t think I could have done it. But Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pen name: Lewis Carroll) did and has been entertaining generations since 1865. Somehow, I’m thinking my novels won’t last that long.

Book two. OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I know he wrote many stories, most of them more famous. But the Old Man reaches into my soul. Here is a story of a man beaten down by life, by fate, by bad luck, whose only friend is a young boy who is not allowed to sail with him. Why even try? Why set out one more time with virtually no supplies and no plan except to keep the line in the water? Yet, he does, and he hooks a fish bigger than he could ever imagine. The fight is interminable. Something in his psyche will not quit, something makes him fight, something makes him consider anything other than victory total defeat. On the other side is the fish. This beautiful creation who cannot give up, who only understands the will to live. The fight goes on and on, but ends in the only way possible once the fish swallowed the bait. The fish is landed, lashed to the boat, too big to be taken aboard, longer than the boat itself. And the exhausted old man sets sail for home, marveling at his incredible good luck, knowing he will be the hero he once was. But, just as in life, when we least deserve it, catastrophe strikes. The old man fights—and loses. But does he? What a story. Each time I read it, I find more nuances, more parallels to my life.

Book three? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee. A simple tale told through the eyes of a young girl. Yet there are so many of life’s stories wrapped up in it. A child’s love for her father and brother. Her shock in learning her father is more than just a bookish lawyer. Her fear of the unknown (Boo Radley), only to learn there is nothing to fear. Discrimination against a black man simply because he is black. Trust in a white woman simply because she is white. So many lessons in a short enjoyable read.

No, I cannot select one book that influenced my writing. There have been too many. And I hope they just keep coming.

Randy Rawls is a retired US Army officer and Department of Defense civilian. He is the author of the Ace Edwards, Dallas P.I. series, short stories in various anthologies, and Thorns on Roses, a South Florida thriller. Rawls is a member of Mystery Writers of America and resides in South Florida. For more information, visit